Q&A: Paul Alofs Goes From Music Biz to $1B Cancer Cure Champion
Having succeeded in the music industry at HMV and BMG, the indefatigable team leader turned his attention to a cause that was close to his heart. Along the way, he helped raise a king's ransom.
By Karen Bliss
At president and CEO Paul Alofs’ recent farewell tribute, a job jar was mentioned that contained just one piece of paper: “Go raise $1 billion for cancer research,” it read. It’s been sitting on his office desk at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation (PMCF) since 2011. The following year he launched the $1 Billion Personalized Cancer Medicine Challenge and with his recent resignation after 14 years, he proudly steps down having surpassed that goal: $1.052 billion, to be precise, in net fundraising revenue, a combination of $532 million secured in philanthropic support and another $520 million in research grants. PMAC is now one of the top 5 cancer research centres in the world (see its 2017 annual report).
Alofs, the best-selling author of the business book Passion Capitol, told Samaritanmag he doesn’t even consider himself a fundraiser. Now 61, he had spent a good deal of his adult life in the music industry, becoming president of music retail chain HMV in 1989 at the age of 33. He hadn’t worked his way up, as is commonplace in the music biz. He didn’t even have a background in the music industry, let alone play in a band. He was plucked from Marketing and Promotion Group. The only retail experience he had was working in a beer store, way back when. But how could he not be a music fan growing up in Windsor, Ontario, listening to CKLW, the legendary top 40 radio station which also served Detroit?
He helmed HMV Canada from 1989 to 1995, leading its growth from $30 million annual sales to over $200 million. He then became president of BMG Canada for two years until 1997, when he accepted a position in Los Angeles with Disney Stores North America, overseeing 500 locations. In 1999, he briefly ran online music site MP3.com, then returned to Toronto as a private investor. He soon learned that his mother, Patricia, had cancer, and along with his siblings became her caregiver until her death in 2002. The difficult experience left him with “a burning desire and passion to try and do something important for cancer.”
He spent a month volunteering at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in 2003, then dove into his role as president and CEO. The torch has now been passed to Michael Burns, who has big — and active — shoes to fill. Alofs not only spearheaded the 200km Ride to Conquer Cancer and Road Hockey To Conquer Cancer but participated in them.